Women in medicine: Sally Davies and Margaret Turner-Warwick

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The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them.

Professor Dame Sally Davies is chief medical officer for England and chief medical adviser to the UK government. This independent role was established in 1855; in 2010, Dame Sally became the first woman appointed to the position.

Educated at the University of Manchester, Dame Sally was made consultant in haematology at Central Middlesex Hospital in 1985, and appointed professor in 1997.

While she was the Department of Health’s chief scientific adviser from 2004 to 2016, Dame Sally conceived of, founded, and ran the National Institute for Health Research.

Dame Sally advocates globally on combating antimicrobial resistance, and has been appointed co-convener of the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on this topic. She also represents the UK at the World Health Organization.

Dame Sally is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a fellow of the Royal Society, and an international member of the National Academy of Medicine in the USA.

As intellectually formidable as she was personally generous, Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick was one of the foremost doctors of the 20th century, leading the transformation of the treatment of lung disease. In placing patients and the profession of medicine at the centre of all she did, she is a shining example of excellence to the generations that follow her.

Sally Davies on her inspiration Margaret Turner-Warwick

Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick (1924–2017) was one of the pre-eminent physicians of her generation. A world authority in respiratory medicine, she was the first woman to be elected president of the Royal College of Physicians, over 470 years after the organisation’s foundation.

Margaret Turner-Warwick read medicine at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. During her final year she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but finished her studies before taking a break for treatment. After a period in a sanatorium, she completed clinical training at University College Hospital, subsequently taking up a junior position there.

In 1960, Margaret was appointed consultant physician at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and, in 1967, consultant at the London Chest and Brompton Hospitals. Combining clinical work with academia, she was appointed professor of thoracic medicine at the Cardiothoracic Institute of the University of London, where she was dean from 1984 to 1987.

Combining a piercing intellect with an abiding commitment to patient care, Dame Margaret pioneered major advances in the treatment of lung disease and asthma, improvements that continue to have a profound and positive impact today.

After serving as president of the Royal College of Physicians during a time of significant change, Dame Margaret subsequently went on to become chairman of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust, among numerous other roles.

Made DBE in 1991, Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick believed that medicine should be open to all based on merit, without preference or prejudice, a position best encapsulated in her own words:     

I had no wish to be any kind of feminist pioneer or curiosity. That would have got in the way; gender has no place in medicine.